A mystery regarding a missing memorial to one of the worst shipping disasters of the Second World War has focused on Greenock, Scotland
The stone mosaic — which was created in memory of more than 800 people who perished in the sinking of the liner Arandora Star (article here) — was gifted to the town’s Italian club.
But the poignant piece, by artist James Selbie, has vanished and back in 2016,researcher Raffaello Gonnella appealed to the local newspaper, the Greenock Telegraph to help track it down.
Mr Gonnella — whose grandfather was among the victims of the 1940 tragedy — said: “Finding the plaque is very important to the Scottish Italian community.
“It is a very beautiful piece of artwork and marks a very great wartime tragedy.”
He added: “We know it was taken to the Italian club in Greenock, but it’s not there any more and no-one knows what has happened to it.”
However, enquiries made by the Telegraph suggested there was a possibility that the missing mosaic may be lying unnoticed within an Inverclyde church.
Italian club secretary George Canata said that it was passed to a place of worship within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paisley, which includes the district, around three years before.
Mr Canata said: “A former president of the club, Rodolpho Benacci, who is now deceased, took it to one of the churches for some kind of ceremony in memory of the Arandora Star.
“That is all I know about the mosaic. It is not held by the club anymore.”
Mr Gonnella said: “It may well be and that someone somewhere is sitting on something, unaware of its significance.”
The Arandora Star — which was being used as a troop ship — was sunk by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat 75 miles off Ireland on July 2, 1940.
446 Italians died in the sinking of the ship. Among the victims, the youngest was Luigi Gonzaga, aged 16, the oldest was Domenico Marchesi, who was 68 years old.
The disaster is marked with a cloister garden at St Andrew’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Glasgow – (full article here)
Now Mr Gonnella wants to locate the commemorative mosaic and give it pride of place in the garden as a further ‘fitting tribute’ to those who died.
He said: “If we could find it, it is hoped that a place could be found within the memorial garden in Glasgow.”
Mr Gonnella added: “For years it hung in the Italian Consulate, but when that building was closed and its functions moved to Edinburgh, it was decided that a new home would be needed.
“It was eventually gifted to the Greenock Italian Club but the trail has now gone cold.
“I am hoping that someone will be able to help find the mosaic.
“I am asking anyone who knows anything of the mosaic’s whereabouts or what has happened to it to please contact me.
If you have information which may assist Mr Gonnella in his search, you can email him at A1GON@aol.com
So far nothing has come of that search for the missing mosaic even after a website was created by his daughter Andrea about her father, the artist James Selbie (1920-1984).
He was an Artist and an Art teacher at Elgin Academy, Waid Academy, Anstruther and Inverness Royal Academy. He graduated at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen.
I am in the process of uploading photos of his work and always hoping I will discover more to add to this site.
Recently I have been attempting to trace his work through newspaper articles and a radio broadcast. I am so pleased at the response and thank the many people who have sent me digital images of paintings they own. Thanks, Andrea
It turns out that James Selbie loved Italy and learned to speak the language fluently. He won a travelling scholarship which enabled him and his wife, Filomena to travel around Italy and further his artistic career.
He was a frequent visitor to Barga as can be seen from the images above he actually made works based on Barga.
So, could it just be possible that somewhere in Barga there is the missing Arandora Star mosaic, or maybe somebody who reads this article knows were it might be ?
Among those lost on the Arandora Star were the following Barghigiani:
Agostini, Oliviero 29.04.1904
Bertolini, Vincenzo Silvio 14.06.1876
Biagioni, Ferdinando 06.07.1895
Da Prato, Silvio 27.02.1878
Poli, Amedeo 10.03.1896
Rocchiccioli, Caesar 06.12.1909
Togneri, Giuseppe 19.03.1889